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 Ho Chi Minh City part 1

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Bài gửiTiêu đề: Ho Chi Minh City part 1   Mon Nov 09, 2009 11:46 pm

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Ho Chi Minh City


The city Of Ho Chi Minh, popularly known as Saigon, is the South capital of Vietnam. This city is the business center of Vietnam. Many international companies have their headquarters here.
Although it is also a big and chaotic metropolis, I consider this city friendlier to tourists than Hanoi. Ho chi Minh has a nice colonial center, with broad promenades and squares and some French influence buildings that should not be missed. There are also many nice temples and pagodas. Another of the things visitors should not miss are its popular markets -- a great place to taste the local food specialties, by the way. If you come with me I will try to show you all of this on this virtual presentation of this city. I will also give you some tips and hints for visiting Saigon.
There are also many interesting excursions to do while visiting the South of Vietnam. You have to spare two or three days to visit the Mekong Delta. You can also go to great beach locations like Muine and Vung Tau. If you have more days, you can take a plane, and visit the paradisiacal island of Phu Quoc. A great one day excursion is a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels -- built during the Vietnam War, or the American War, as locals call it.

1. Saigon, Ben Thanh Square
We will start the tour of Saigon in front of the Ben Than Market. The square which can be considered the center of Downtown Saigon.
At our left lies an area called Pham Ngu Lao, with plenty of hotels, restaurants and bars. This is an area most backpackers and cheap travelers choose. If you can, stay away from there. In Pham Ngu Lao, you will only see foreigners. In other areas of Saigon you will find better hotels at lower rates. And, unless you are looking for hamburgers and western food, go somewhere else to eat.
At our right, is downtown Saigon. because of its French influences, this district has a very European look. In this French district is where the best hotels are located. Good restaurants, bars and clubs are also found there.
At our back we have a local bus station. From here you may take buses to anywhere else in the city. Some of the buses that stop here will take you to towns outside Ho Chi Minh. Saigon's main bus station is a couple of miles from here.
Ben Thanh Market will, most probably, be one of your first visits while in Saigon. Goods for sale in the market of Ben Thanh are grouped. In one area of the market you will see the fruit stands. In another section of the market, the meat. On the other side, the clothes stands, and so on. Because this is a very popular place among tourists you will also find plenty of souvenirs for sale. Among the most popular are the T-shirts, caps, clothes and jewelry.
You can see a shoe shop. As you can see, there is a shoe for every woman.By the way, if you are looking for a place to have lunch, you will find many stalls inside the market with local specialties. Food here, in my opinion, was great. And if you are not hungry, but thirsty, try one of the fresh juices, or the Hue "Che". Outside of the market there are some stalls where food is served. A great place to have a good and cheap dinner.

2. Saigon, inside Ben Thanh Market
You can see one of the aisles inside the Ben Thanh Market. As you can see, this is the shoes section of the market.
When visiting a foreign country, one of the things I enjoy more visiting are the local markets. Vietnam was no exception. I really enjoyed the markets. You can learn a lot about local people: what they eat, what they wear. You can also see how people bargain, how they deal with each other. A real lesson about local customs. Of course I am not the only tourist that likes local markets. For this reason, some of the markets are overcrowded with tourists in lousy T-shirts.
Later we will visit another great Market in Saigon, The Binh Tay Market. The biggest in the South of Vietnam.

3. Saigon, Town Hall
The Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, or Saigon's Town Hall, is a building with evident French influences. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century. Unfortunately it is not open to the public.
In front of this richly ornated building is a park, where a statue of Oncle Ho sits. A great place to take nice pictures!
Not far from here is one of the most famous hotels in town, the Rex Hotel. Its building sits at our left. At our right, walking along a broad avenue are two nice buildings you should not miss, the Opera House and the Notre dame Cathedral.

4. Saigon, window shop
Saigon, as the rest of Vietnam, is a great place to buy silver clothes at bargain prices. It won't be difficult for you to find a silk shop. Some of the clothes on sale in these shops are traditional vietnamese dresses (like the ones in the picture), but you can also get western clothes. In some shops they will do a taylor suit in a couple of days.
As I said somewhere else in this web site, bring an empty bag when visiting Vietnam. It will be difficult finding a place that matches Vietnamese prices and quality when it comes to clothes. By the way, if you plan to visit Hoi An, you should buy your clothes there.

5. Saigon, Notre Dame Church
The Notre Dame Cathedral is another of the fingerprints the French left in the city of Saigon. The building, that stands in the center of Saigon, was built at the end of the 19th century. Inside you can admire typical french stained glass windows. The best in Vietnam.
It is possible to climb the belfry, from where there is a nice view of the center of Saigon.
Although most Vietnamese are Buddhists, there are a few of them that profess a different religion. Thanks to the French occupation of this land, the Catholic religion is the western religion with more followers.

6. Saigon, Notre Dame Square
Although the capital of Vietnam is Hanoi, the financial and business center of this Southeast Asian country is Saigon.
When visiting this country I saw many western faces, but it was only in Saigon that I found many foreigners that lived here. I am sure expats find it easier to live here than anywhere else in Vietnam. There are some good job opportunities for foreigners in Saigon. Most of them come from France, Australia and Germany.
You can see the streets, buildings, bars and restaurants look very western. But do not be misguided, there is also the "Vietnamese" side of Saigon.

7. Saigon, Central Post Office
Next to Saigon's Cathedral sits the Central Post Office. Even if you do not need to send anything, do get in, and admire its huge hall.
By the way, if you are visiting Vietnam, I have to tell you that communications have improved a lot recently.
Internet is very pervasive. You will find internet access everywhere in Vietnam. Even in the remotest and smallest towns, I found internet access. Internet connections was, most of the times, very fast. In some cases I had to avoid "rush hours", that is, afternoons; when kids leave school and go to the internet cafes in mass. Most of the cafes have web cams and microphones, a much cheaper alternative than telephones.

8. Saigon, traffic jam
Now that we have seen the most western side of Saigon, we will take a look at its more Asian face.
The first thing that will surprise you in your first visit to Saigon is the amount of motorbikes. It seems that each and everyone of the 10 million people who live in Ho Chi Minh City has its own bike!
You have to know that walking in the streets of any Vietnamese city can be dangerous. And Saigon is the most dangerous of all the towns in this country.
In some of the big avenues there are traffic lights, but in most of the streets there are not. To cross a street takes some practice. Do not wait for Saigonese drivers to stop, instead, start walking at a slow and steady path. Look at the face of the drivers that will try to avoid you. If you see some danger, stop. This way moto riders will have time to react.

9. Saigon, apartments house
Another of the things that surprised me in Saigon, and in other cities in Vietnam, was its urbanism. In the center you still see the urbanism plans that the French left. But streets in the districts in the outskirts of Saigon, or some of the smallest streets in the center, are quite chaotic. There seems to be no urbanism plans.
Locals buy a plot of land and build a house wherever they can. Small alleys that lead nowhere, thousands of cables and pipes hanging on the walls, almost no sidewalks, and so on. Someday the Vietnamese government will have to put an end to this situation.

10. Saigon, Quoc Tu Pagoda
The Quoc Tu Pagoda is a located in District 10, next to a kids amusement park. The park is called "Ho Ky Hoa" or "Lake and Gardens" Park. There you will find lakes where you can sail on boats and fish. There is also a small swimming pool open to the public.
The Quoc Tu Pagoda is quite a wonderful sight. Its huge tower impressed me. Inside the temple you will find the typical Buddhist statues and an altar. Remember that you have to use proper clothes to visit the Pagodas. You also have to remove your shoes (and your cap), to get in the temples.
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